Take off your armor. Put on your curiosity.

July 30, 2020

Take off your armor. Put on your curiosity.

May 29, 2023

I’m convinced that we start putting our armor on around adolescence as a means of coping with what we perceive to be a complex and dangerous world. By the time we arrive at “middlescence,” solidly in midlife, maybe it’s time we start disrobing from that armor?

Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers had a client who told him, “As I look at it now, I was peeling off layer after layer of defenses. I'd build them up, try them, and then discard them when I remained the same. I didn't know what was at the bottom and I was very much afraid to find out, but I had to keep on trying. At first I felt there was nothing within me - just a great emptiness where I needed and wanted a solid core. Then I began to feel that I was facing a solid brick wall, too high to get over and too thick to go through.”

The client continued, “One day the wall became translucent, rather than solid. After this, the wall seemed to disappear but beyond it, I discovered a dam holding back violent, churning waters. I felt as if I were holding back the force of these waters and if I opened even a tiny hole I and all about me would be destroyed in the ensuing torrent of feelings represented by the water. Finally I could stand the strain no longer and l let go. All I did, actually, was to succumb to complete and utter self pity, then hate, then love. After this experience, I felt as if I had leaped a brink and was safely on the other side, though still tottering a bit on the edge. I don't know what I was searching for or where I was going but I felt then as I have always felt whenever I really lived, that I was moving forward.”

This forward motion is often fueled by curiosity. Unfortunately, it is a quality that many of us left behind in childhood. Long before Michelle Obama wrote her memoir, “Becoming,” Carl Rogers was already focused on what it means for someone to “become” more of who they are. He writes, “Below the level of the problem situation about which the individual is complaining—behind the trouble with studies, or wife, or employer, or with his own uncontrollable or bizarre behavior, or with his frightening feelings, lies one central search. It seems to me at bottom each person is asking, “Who am I, really? How can I get in touch with this real self, underlying all my surface behavior? How can I become myself?”

With that catalytically curious question, our real work begins—and the perfect opportunity to share this brief poem from Wendell Berry:


Our Real Work
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

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